I recently completed a continuing education course on story-telling, which made me reflect on my love of reading and telling stories with my parents and siblings while growing up. The course discussed many different aspects of story-telling, from assessing a child’s ability to tell a story, the importance of story-telling, and ways to promote the ability to tell a story. For instance, stories play a role in understanding a person’s way of thinking and building a community. We use stories in every part of our life, whether it is describing our day, something funny that happened at school, or using our imagination to describe our hopes. For children, stories provide a bridge between literacy and oral language skills.
Based on this recent course, one important thing to look at a child’s story telling ability is their ability to use episodes in their story. An episode is simply a problem, a complication, and a solution. It can be as simple as “I woke up and I wanted to get dressed. But I couldn’t find my shoes. Luckily, Mom found them under the table”. This has our problem (e.g., wanting to get dressed), a complication (e.g., can’t find shoes) and a solution (e.g., Mom found them).
For younger children in preschool, they often have a pre-episodic structure, meaning they tell stories that are more like descriptions or actions. For instance, a young child may try to tell a story by saying “The boy has a frog. The frog is green. The frog jumps.” The child is simply describing a picture, but we are missing those key problem/complication/solution parts that make stories interesting. Action sequences are a little more advanced, such as “The frog jumped. Then he went in the water. Then he ate some bugs. Then he went to sleep.”) This is a great sequence of events but is still missing those key elements. As a parent, you can help start adding to your child’s story-telling by helping them identify some feelings and add them to the story. For instance, going to our frog example, you could ask your child how the frog felt when he ate some bugs. Then your child could add “He was happy eating the bugs.” Then talk about why things are happening, or the motivation of the character. Maybe the frog was eating because he was hungry or he went swimming because he was hot.
The course also discussed ways to help older children (about age 8 or older) create stories. Once your child has the basic episode structure of a story, we can begin to add more pieces and descriptions to make it more interesting. One way to do this is by repeating words for emphasis. Think of the difference in meaning for “He was tired” compared to “He was very, very, very tired.” You can also have your child tell you more about the setting of the story, such as “Once upon a time, in the dark forest, a boy walked on a rocky path” or by giving the character’s names and descriptions. One fun way to connect the whole family is by telling “Beep” stories. Have one person start the story and tell one sentence. The person then says “Beep” and it passes to the next family member. It’s a great way include family members of all ages and will create a hilarious story, as each person changes the story.
Have lots of fun!